Blog Entries: 1 to 10 of 11
Christine Cohen’s presentation about what can be found in will and probate records reminded me of when my husband and I traveled east in 2005 to see the “Big Apple” and to visit the town of Cairo (pronounced like the syrup, not like the city in Egypt), Greene County, New York where my Weed ancestors settled in 1790 after leaving Connecticut. After minimal success in locating records in Cairo, the town clerk suggested that we visit the Vedder Research Library at the Greene County Historical Society building in Coxsackie about ten miles northeast of Cairo and, although we never located any Weed family documents, we were fortunate to find a multi-paged, handwritten, last will and testament for Charles Sisson.
Charles, a lifelong bachelor who passed away in 1895, was the younger brother of my second great-grandmother, Rhoda Henrietta (Sisson) Weed, and his will provided information that proved to be extremely beneficial in researching my Weed, Sisson, Coleman, Adams, Winans, DeForges, and Lake family branches. At the time of the will’s discovery, I had no knowledge of five of these family names, and while it took several years of searching, I finally was able to make the connections and confirm my earlier assumptions about how we were all connected. The detailed accounting in Charles’s will of siblings, their children, and locations of residence linked me to census records, birth, death, and marriage records and, in some cases, military pension records. Charles’s will contained a treasure-trove of clues.
Saturday’s talk by Christine Cohen on “Probate: Where There’s a Will or Not” got me thinking about finding other will and probate records for the various twigs and branches of my family tree, especially those where records are scarce. There was one of my family lines with the somewhat common surname of Franklin, and this has led to frustration and confusion about which Franklin branch was mine. At the conclusion of Christine’s presentation on how to find and use will and probate records, I immediately went online to FamilySearch.org and did a deep dive into North Carolina Wills from 1792-1827 and found my ancestor, James Franklin’s will dated the 31st of October 1818. Although he never names his “dearly beloved wife,” he does list all of his children, including my fourth great-grandfather, Sherrod Franklin, who he calls “my well beloved son,” and lists his eldest son, William, as his executor. The witnesses were Thomas Nixon and John Marsh. They are next on my list to investigate to see how they might be connected to the Franklin family.
Christine’s well-organized presentation has opened up a valuable avenue of research. I can’t wait to see what I will discover in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
(Thanks to our Past President, Christine Cohen, for filling in for our current President, Kristina Newcomer, in completing the “President’s Pen” for April 2021.)
WAGS had the honor of welcoming back Dr. Penny Walters, via Zoom, for our March meeting. Her topic was “Mixing DNA results with Your Paper Trail.” Penny used wonderful visuals to explain how DNA and your traditional paper research can be combined to come to a logical conclusion with DNA matches, consanguinity, relationship predictors, GEDMatch, triangulation, and ethnicity. Her website is https://www.searchmypast.co.uk/.
Penny explained how to visualize your DNA results using a “Victorian Sponge Cake.” You are made up of the ingredients in the cake recipe and all your ancestors contribute these ingredients to blend together to make you. Therefore, your DNA matches get your shared ingredients but in mixed and various amounts. She suggested this site for more details about recombination:
Penny expanded on the many useful tools on www.GEDMatch.com such as the chromosome browser to see for what specific chromosome there is a match, the “Gen” feature to determine how many generations back you and your match overlap, and the “One-To-One Autosomal DNA Comparison” tool. These are all FREE to use.
Keep in mind that the ethnicity results are going to vary from company to company. Each one has their own reference panels. Penny shared her ethnicity results that varied greatly over the years as these companies get more test takers and fine tune their scientific methods. Penny went from 94% to 58% Irish in a span of five years. In addition, these DNA testing companies are now able to narrow down to the county level for many countries. So, keep this in mind when you review your results.
Plus, when you get those possible relationships reports, be open minded. The centimorgans number fall into a range. Therefore, a 4th to 6th cousin could be a 3rd cousin once removed. Penny mentioned one of the best resources for genetic genealogy is the Blaine Bettinger website https://thegeneticgenealogist.com/.
I am so excited to be nominated as the new Program Chair for WAGS for 2021-2023. I have many ideas on engaging speakers to expand your genealogy knowledge.
Please be safe and well. I truly hope we can meet again in person soon.
Sometimes all it takes is for someone to remind us that there are different avenues we can explore when seeking the answers to the puzzles in our genealogical pursuits.
Lisa Lisson’s enlightening presentation about finding and using uncommon “out of the box” sources to make those all-important breakthroughs, encouraged us to step out of our comfort zone of traditional resources and explore the world beyond conventional records.
As genealogists, we are very familiar with the usual “suspects” – census and vital records, wills and deeds, etc. – which can lead to the same frustrating results time after time, especially when documents are incomplete, scarce or non-existent. Lisa suggested that we try a different approach by focusing on our ancestors’ social history to fill in the gaps. Instead of relying solely on federal, state, or county records, expand your survey to include all areas of their daily lives, including – but not limited to – religious affiliation, education, occupation, social standing, fraternal orders, and military service. Take advantage of special collections, such as those in ArchiveGrid and digital collections at state and local libraries for those nuggets of personal history just waiting for us to find. Some of my favorite places to search are city directories and voter lists, especially as a way to trace the movement of my ancestors between census enumerations. Don’t overlook newspaper searches for items other than obituaries, such as legal proceedings, wedding announcements, arrest records, sport scores, and community involvement. Poor house, asylum, military retirement homes, and orphanage records are other valuable resources not to be overlooked.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” By expanding your genealogical focus and thinking outside the usual framework of research, you may be able to break the cycle of “insanity” and those brick walls to fill in the blanks of your ancestors’ lives.
The December WAGS newsletter headline asked, “WHAT IS YOUR LATEST WAGS FAMILY TALE?” Six contributors volunteered to share their stories of discovery, heritage, emigration, shady characters, and genealogical twists and turns. This was our first virtual holiday gathering for the annual members’ Show & Tell program and I want to thank everyone who participated in making it an ‘online’ success.
First up was Rick Frohling who told us about his East Frisian ancestors in “The ‘Tea’ on my Ostfreisen Heritage.” We learned about the geographical setting of the Frisian empire, its ancient northwestern-Germanic and Scandinavian heritage, the difference between the low-German and high-German language, and how to make and drink Frisian tea with rock sugar and cream.
Next, we heard from Bonnie Morris in “The Dilemma of the Two David K. Walls.” Beginning with a photograph, Bonnie began her search to discover which David was which! Her research led her to conclude that the two David K. Walls were second cousins who had been given the identical name thus making it difficult to determine which David was hers. A true genealogical challenge that has happened to many of us.
A new member, but long-time genealogist, Gerhard Schaefer, shared his story about discovering family connections in Germany and America when he began researching his cousin Hugo Sternkopf and his clandestine journey as a teenager to join a relative in Chicago, arriving in 1912. Gerhard’s tale was called, “What Goes Around Will Really Come Around.” His research into Hugo has expanded his family tree exponentially and allowed him to collaborate with relatives both here and abroad.
Victoria Jacobs’s ‘work-in-progress’ was called, “The Mess with Uncle Jesse.” Her story involved two branches of her family, the Hamiltons and the Tatums, who have a long history in Fayette County, Mississippi. It seems that Uncle Jesse was charged with murdering his wife, stood trial, and was found not guilty, but the story didn’t end there. Through patience and perseverance, Victoria found court documents, connected with distant relatives, and rounded out the story. Her suggestion – never give up, be patient, and look for the story behind the headlines!
I jumped in next and told the story of “Searching for Caroline Boecker,” my paternal 2nd great-grandmother who seemed to disappear from the record books! Who were her parents and why couldn’t I find her in the 1870 or 1880 censuses? My genealogical puzzle was solved when I realized that her surname had many different spellings, Baker being the most common, and that led me to her parents, Christian Heinrich Boeker and Sophia Gusewelle, German immigrants who settled in Madison County, Illinois, whose surname morphed into Baker over the years.
Our last presenter was Christine Cohen who presented the “Curious Case of Alpheus Freeman” of Middlesex County, New Jersey. Through newspaper, court, real estate and probate records Christine was able to round out his life, but many questions remained. Why did he have so many creditors, why wasn’t he named in his father’s will, and why were the courts still adjudicating his land holdings seventy years after his death? Alpheus’s tale is a genealogical mystery.
When I first started collecting information about my ancestors, my only sources were my parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. In the beginning, I was only interested in the names and brief histories as told to me by the various members of my family with facts, errors and myths all jumbled together. How was I to resolve the many conflicts inherent in the stories, timelines and individuals? I didn’t begin to sort it all out until many years later, and by then I realized that I needed to begin recording my findings and citing my sources to prove that I had found my actual ancestors.
Because of my interest in genealogy, my parents gave me two old books that had been handed down through each side of the family. An 1878 Swedish bible belonging to my maternal grandaunt, Alfie Hotilia Östman and an 1853 German prayer book belonging to an individual named John Barnhardt Laberman. These tangible links to my family history were beacons in my search for these relatives and their origins. Written inside the prayer book was a clue, a starting point: “Grandfather’s prayer book, my mother’s father, John Barnhardt Laberman, born in Essen Germany, came to America on honeymoon.” Now I had a name and a location, but who was the source of this information? Who wrote this clue? How was I connected to not only the writer, but to John? This is where my journey of discovery began and this is when I found out how important sources are in proving that my research is valid and can be trusted.
Saturday’s presentation on citing our sources by Mark Cross emphasized the importance of validating our research with clarity, conciseness, completeness and confidence. Mark outlined the purpose and fundamentals of genealogical documentation by having us answer the following questions:
Who is the author of the source?
What kind of source is it?
When was the source created?
Where is the source located?
How is the source stored?
Why should we document our work? Without proper documentation perfectly accurate and totally false family history can look the same. Good sources support our research and citations describe our sources. They complement and complete each other. Documentation lies at the heart of trustworthy genealogy and shows that a family’s history correctly reflects events, identities and relationships.
After my ‘reasonably exhaustive search’ into John Barnhardt Laberman, I can reliably conclude that he was my paternal third great-grandfather and the writer of the clue was my great-grandmother, Bessie May (Glover) Doerges, who is accurately cited as a primary source.
I can’t speak for every genealogist out there, but one of the strongest drives for pursuing family research is to expand our knowledge of our family lineage. Some people strive to collect as many names as they can in a subtle game of one-up manship, while others are on a quest to clarify their heritage, link themselves to an historical person, or delve into their ancestor’s personal lives through stories. No matter the driving force behind our need to devote hours, days, weeks, months and years to the ultimate game of hide-and-seek, there is always that potential ancestor out there somewhere just waiting to be discovered and gathered onto the welcoming branches of our family tree. As for me, I believe the aim of genealogical research is to establish connections, not only with our predecessors but also with living relatives, and one of the ways to achieve this goal may be through the use of collaborative BIG family trees.
Saturday’s excellent presentation by Randy Seaver covered all the basics about collaborative trees, such as the What, Why and Where of constructing a ‘worldwide’ tree through the individual efforts of genealogists everywhere. Two main goals of collaborative big trees are to make those all-important connections and find those elusive potential ancestors.
Participating in WikiTree, Geni World Tree, FamilySearch Family Tree or Ancestry can be one way to share your research with a larger community of like-minded genealogists and preserve your family knowledge for future generations by adding what you know about your ancestors to the millions of individuals in these collaborative trees. Like many large undertakings, they all have their pluses and minuses and all seem to require a certain degree of time and patience when uploading information or dealing with errors.
According to Randy, the benefits of preserving your research, helping others, finding sources, links, common ancestors, and DNA matches, can outweigh the drawbacks, especially when the goal is to connect my tree with your tree to become our tree.
Have you ever found yourself with some spare minutes and decide to take advantage of this gift of time to work on your genealogy? What is your approach? Do you just plunge ahead wherever it was you last left off regardless of previous unsuccessful searches? Do you aim your sights on one of those pesky brick walls we all seem to have, hoping to finally make some appreciable progress? Or, do you set yourself a specific goal to find that elusive solution to your genealogical puzzle?
Before our patience runs out and we put our research aside once again, I suggest that we try Amy Johnson Crow’s researching process called The WANDER Method. The title is an acronym and stands for:
What are you trying to find? Focus on one specific research question to target that glaring blank space in your record.
Analyze what you already have. Have you gleaned every bit of information from the records? A careful reading may lead to previously overlooked clues.
Note what is missing. Where are the record gaps in your research? Note what you still need on a ‘to-do or to-find list.’
Discover new records. Make an exhaustive search. Don’t forget to expand your search to include siblings, cousins and the FAN (friends, associates and neighbors) club. Their records may lead to new areas of inquiry.
Evaluate everything! How does this record relate to others you’ve found? What or who is the source for this information? How reliable is this source?
Repeat as necessary. Where questions remain, do not hesitate to begin at the top and work through each step again to guide you to the answer you need.
As Amy explained, genealogical research isn’t always a straight line with every phase of our ancestor’s life laid out in neatly organized steps, but is actually a slow and steady process that wanders or spirals and affords us the opportunity to note how circumstances affected their life. We need to follow where the clues lead us, making sure we don’t jump ahead, but wander our way to success.
Let us know how the WANDER method helped you to solve a genealogical puzzle.
What made you start doing genealogy? Was there a specific ‘trigger’ that got you started? When did you start? Is genealogy a hobby or a family obligation? Are you looking for specific people or family in general? Was there a mystery or a gap in your family history that challenged you? Were you looking for your ancestral ethnicity or heritage? Are you a puzzle solver or a collector of names?
These were just a few of the questions that Dr. Penny Walters addressed in her fascinating philosophical talk on The Psychology of Searching: Why are you looking for dead people? According to Penny, we fall into one or more of several categories when it comes to our interest in genealogy. Are we analysts looking for patterns; diplomats looking for connections; sentinels interested in family history; or explorers looking to the past to inform the future? Or, all of the above, depending on your motivations and genealogical goals.
Why do we search for dead people? In my husband’s case, I would call him a collector or hoarder of people, not a researcher. With two exceptions, his family history has been well-recorded and researched by others, thereby allowing him to gather and populate his electronic family tree with relative ease. He is interested in the strong religious ties of his ancestors and takes pride in their long heritage in the anabaptist and pietist religions of the Mennonite and Brethren faiths. However, when it comes to his two ‘brick wall’ surnames, his desire to delve into the world of puzzle solving is marginal at best.
I, on the other hand, approached the field of genealogy with another goal in mind. I wanted to know all of my historical family names, where they came from, who they were in life. I listened to family stories, hunted down photographs, and made notes about every little thing my parents and grandparents told me about their lives and their families. I knew so little about my family beyond the names of my grandparents and a few great-grandparents, and even those names were often misspelled, that I became the family researcher gathering every scrap of knowledge I could find and relating my victories to my extended family. Therefore, I believe that I am a analyst, a diplomat, a sentinel, an explorer and a puzzle-solver rolled into one. And, now I know the answer to the question, who do I come from?
Sometimes life takes you in a different direction. Such was the case after listening to Kristi Sexton’s informative presentation about what to do with heirlooms, collections, and priceless mementos associated with our family history. I had another subject planned for this month’s President’s Pen, but decided to ‘change horses midstream’ as my father would say.
So many of the objects Kristi spoke about fell right into line with my position as recorder of the family history, keeper of the collections, maintainer of memorabilia, and preserver of photographs. I know that there are many of us out there right now, trying to decide whether to hold on to, pass down, donate or repurpose all the ‘stuff’ that has somehow ended up in our spare rooms, closets, curio cabinets and cedar chests. Saturday’s presentation of “Grandma’s Dress Quilt . . . From a Bed to a Book” offered guidance and assurance that we are up to the challenge.
Kristi spoke of archiving, digitally and photographically recording, and writing the stories behind these special items as a means of preserving them for future generations. The easiest inherited items to preserve fall into the category of paper documents, including photographs. These can be digitally copied and posted within our genealogy records and in our online family trees. The originals can be safely stored in archival-safe scrapbooks and passed along to interested family members. But, what do we do with three-dimensional items such as china, spoon collections, quilts, awards/trophies, coin/stamp collections, furniture, or jewelry and so on?
Here are her five questions to help you determine how to proceed:
1. Why is this item special?
2. Is there a story behind the item?
3. Is the item a knick-knack or handmade?
4. Can the item be repurposed?
5. Is the item something to share with future generations?
If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then you may want to preserve the item. The next thing you might want to do is check with family members to see who would be interested in receiving great-grandmother’s wedding china, or all those spoons your mother-in-law collected over her many years of travel.
In my case, as the only daughter, I inherited the china, spoons, handmade furniture, photographs, teacups, stamp collections, jewelry and watches, DVDs of my uncle’s movies, and my grandfather’s antique rifles. I have no children to pass these items to, but I am hoping that my nephews will want to treasure them as much as I have, and in turn, pass them on to the next generation.
There are no guidelines on how to be a newly-elected WAGS President during a pandemic, but I look forward to fulfilling this exciting leadership opportunity which I have been given. So, please bear with me as I step into the exceptional shoes of our outgoing President, Christine Cohen.
I thought I would begin by telling you a little about myself. I’ve been a member of WAGS since January 2000, became a Senior Life Member in 2018, and termed out as Treasurer in August 2019 after seven years. I’ve been married to Owen Newcomer for forty-nine years and our offspring have always been feline.
In addition to dance – specifically ballet, which I taught for thirty-four years – genealogy is one of my passions. Interest in my family history began very early owing to my mom’s pride in her Swedish heritage; making sure that I learned something about the food, music, dance and holiday celebrations of her mother’s family. Mom’s paternal side has strong British roots which directly connect me to Medieval royalty. Dad’s side of the family is German and English in about equal parts, with fascinating stories about towering blacksmiths on both sides of his family tree.
My introduction into genealogical research was fostered by Ellenor (Bowen) Robertson, my first cousin twice removed; a character actor, genealogist, history buff and writer. Her help and encouragement were the foundation I needed to persevere in my new hobby – finding and documenting my family history – which has culminated in the present-day challenge of becoming your new president. So, come along with me as I find my footing in this “new normal” landscape in which we now find ourselves. With your help and support, I am sure we can meet this challenge head on. So here goes!
Saturday, June 20th
was our third WAGS meeting via ZOOM and I believe that we are getting the hang of it thanks to Trish Garcia and Christine Rubalcava, our Program Chairs. Our speaker, Lisa Lisson (who graciously stepped up at the last moment when our scheduled speaker fell ill) presented her excellent webinar on “Before She Was a Mrs…Discovering Your Female Ancestors.” Lisa spoke about her four strategies for finding those elusive female ancestors: #1 Don’t overlook the obvious, #2 Shift the focus to the men in her family, #3 Shift the focus to her children, and #4 Research her role in the community. Her suggestion of re-reading documents in greater depth may lead to finding that brick-wall buster you’ve been searching for. Be sure to check out Lisa’s website at www.LisaLisson.com
and her ‘Are You My Cousin’ blog for more helpful genealogy strategies.
Looking forward to connecting with you in July for our ‘virtual’ ice cream social.